1 of 2
Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Karen Vardeny points out some of the fish to her 3-year-old daughter, Lauryn. The two were at the Living Planet Aquarium's new exhibit, "Life on the Reef," which opened Thursday in Sandy.

SANDY — Excitement radiated from Garrett Platt's 2-year-old eyes as he ran between jellyfish, shark and coral reef exhibits.

He reminded onlookers that when it comes to jellyfish, "You don't touch!" For Platt, of Provo, Sandy's Living Planet Aquarium is not quite a whole new world.

Garrett has been coming to the aquarium almost monthly since he turned 1 and knows where all his favorite exhibits are.

His father, Brennan Platt, recounted Garrett's fascination with fish and sea creatures. "When I open my laptop, Garrett says, 'Look at fish!' So, we Google different kinds and colors of fish." They have had a membership for the past year and enjoy coming for a few hours whenever they get the chance.

The Living Planet Aquarium moved from the Gateway to 725 E. 10600 South in Sandy almost two years ago. It is currently open to the public Sundays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Daily passes can be purchased for $8 per adult and $6 per child, or annual memberships can be purchased for $15 per adult and $9 per child.

Thursday the aquarium opened its newest exhibit, "Life on the Reef." The aquarium originally had a small coral reef exhibit, but with help from grants and private donations was able to create a new display about four times as large.

The new exhibit is intended to educate the public of the importance of taking care of nature. Aquarium CEO Brent Anderson commented that 10 percent of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed. He said the new exhibit will help visitors realize the importance of healthy coral reef environments .

"Life on the Reef" features five tanks of brilliantly colored coral, tropical fish and an ecosystem of diverse sea plants. It portrays the reef community's symbiotic way of life.

The central tank offers aquarium visitors the opportunity to watch a coral reef in full operation with many types of fish and other oceanic life forms.

A smaller jewel tank shows the homes clownfish and engineer goby create for themselves in the reef. Two smaller tanks also portray how the "reef janitors" and frogfish find their meals.

The aquarium focuses on educating its visitors on the importance of all communities, including underwater sea environments unseen by many Utah residents.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning, Andersen reminded visitors, "Coral reefs impact the ecosystems of the world, no matter how far away you are."

"The aquarium is really a wonderful opportunity to educate the children and public," said Dan Burke of the Office of Museum Services. "I would encourage the public to visit. They will be incredibly impressed with the exhibits and their diversity."

Shortly after the ribbon cutting, two classes of kindergarten students from Bella Vista Elementary School in the Jordan School District arrived for a field trip.

"We have been studying about animals, and the students were excited to come see some close up," teacher Terri Stephens explained.

With as much enthusiasm as two classes of kindergartners can muster, the students scampered from tank to tank with oohs, aahs and several exclamations of "Look at that!"

The students worked their way from the Utah Water Conservation Hall, complete with an interactive boat ride, through the Marine Hall, past the Giant Pacific Octopus, to the Biofacts Center where they could touch and examine small sea creatures.

Three-year-old Liam Allison of Sandy came to the ribbon-cutting ceremony with his parents and said he enjoyed looking at the starfish, found in the Biofacts Center, with a magnifying glass.

The Stingray Touch-Tank was the next stop for the students, where harmless stingrays glided to the water's edge to be touched and played with.

Aquarium workers noted the touch-tank as many visitors' favorite exhibit. "It brings out the kid in everyone," said Steve Martinez, gift shop manager.

Young children are invited to visit the Coral Community, where tanks are strategically located at lower heights in a fun atmosphere for children ages 1-5.

The aquarium also welcomes birthday parties to the Sunken Ship. Children can dress up as pirates and are taught by one of the aquarium educators about the animals and environments in the aquarium.

E-MAIL: [email protected]